Virat Kohli: The James Bond of brand endorsement!

Over the last two years, the topper in the list of brand endorsers is Virat Kohli. Every Bollywood star has been displaced by this Baadshah of cricket.

Virat Kohli, the Indian skipper, gets the most number of eyeballs today as a brand ambassador.   -  AFP

The brand endorsement market in India is a world of its own. A world that thrives with a small market of brand endorsers, all drawn from just two dominant spaces, Bollywood and cricket. In many ways this is a closed club. Outsiders are not welcome.

Chess players, badminton stars, tennis stars and indeed stars from television and now stars from the space of OTT have tried to barge in and create a space for themselves. Many have made an entry, only to be ejected by a small group of magnet celebrities who somehow keep attracting the moolah all the while.

This exclusive club of brand endorsers of India really started out with celebrities from Bollywood. Amitabh Bachchan was the earliest of them all, followed by every Kapoor and Khan in tow. The women did not let this space be. In came the stars of every genre and the market thrived.

Brands such as Lux made it a habit to use the film-star to good use, even as part of the basic brand proposition statement. Remember, ‘Filmi sitaron ki soundarya saboon’, that had every Bollywood heroine being a part of the brand repertoire of advertising, Shahrukh Khan in a bath tub with rose petals included!?

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Bollywood therefore started it all. And later in came the cricketers. Kapil Dev did the famous Palmolive ad, and every cricketer who clicked on the field had a brand endorsement deal on hand. And when we ran out of Indian cricketers we even got in cricketers from across the border, the current Prime Minister of Pakistan included for the Cinthol ad from Godrej! Typically, Bollywood led, and cricket followed.

Not anymore though. Over the last two years, the topper in the list of brand endorsers is Virat Kohli, the James Bond of the brand endorsement market in India today. Every Bollywood star has been displaced by the Baadshah of cricket, Kohli, and today he is possibly the most chased brand-endorser in the Indian market, with a brand valuation of just about $170.9 million in 2018. Kohli today swims ahead and in the company of global stars such as footballer Lionel Messi and golfer Rory McIlroy.

What makes Kohli the star he is in the space of brand endorsement then? Many things really.

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The first is his game. Everything starts with cricket. Kohli plays cricket in an era when cricket is not just a game and a sport. It is an entertainment package on its own. Kohli therefore attracts just as many eyeballs as a Bollywood star does, if not more. Gone are also the days when cricket had a gender skew of viewership, and was a man and a boy’s game. Cricket played in whites was one. Cricket played in the Kerry Packer format got in a few women to really watch with a shorter one-day format of the game holding that much more appeal. The final bastion of cricket as entertainment was breached with the 20:20 format and IPL eventually. IPL has gotten every man, woman and child (and arguably every dog and cat as well) watching the game. This ironed out the disadvantage of cricket as a man’s game and made it a family game which had the eyeballs of everyone on it. Brands loved this change, as this meant cricketers could advertise every kind of product or service now with efficient returns. It need not be a men’s shoe and shaving cream alone!

Kohli promoting a leading international watch brand in Mumbai.   -  Vijay Bate

 

To an extent, IPL killed the goose that laid the golden eggs for the Bollywood star. The moment cricket of the boring type gave way to the terrain of cricket of the exciting type of the IPL format, the line between sport and entertainment blurred. The stars that helped create this entertainment became the brand endorsement stars as well. An ouch point for the Bollywood star really. And all this happened quietly. Very quietly.

Kohli therefore enters the brand endorsement ecosystem at a point of time when the captain of the cricket team attracts more eyeballs than the lead actor in the best of Bollywood on offer. Therefore, Kohli displaces all Bollywood stars and gobbles up the brand endorsement moolah with gusto.

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The second reason why Kohli is what he is for the brand endorsement market, is the fact that he is a wholesome package altogether. He has presence, panache, fitness, attitude, aura, aggression, looks and sensitivity about him. Now, that’s a complete package. Add to it the fact that he is married to Anushka Sharma, and the aura of Bollywood and glamour is all there. What more does a brand in quest of an endorser want?

Kohli therefore appeals to everyone in the house. Cricket is a game that is a national passion, and a religion even. The game harvests high passion and precious eyeballs from across the family. The game is discussed in drawing rooms and office cubicles, college and school campuses and beauty parlours alike. The sport is ubiquitous in appeal. A large number of people live vicariously through their cricket stars.

The brand endorsement ecosystem is therefore very ripe for cricket today. And the biggest star of cricket today is Kohli. He reaps the wind.

What next then?

Kohli has the ability to reap the wind not only in India, but also across the Indian cricket diaspora markets of the world. If he continues his game the way he plays, the sky is the limit for Kohli. Remember, there is a little bit of India all across the world.

If there is really any one cricketer who can have a shot at joining the likes of global brand ambassadors such as Roger Federer, LeBron James, Usain Bolt and Tiger Woods, it sure is Virat Kohli. Take a shot at it Virat! You have everything going for you!

The author is a brand-expert & Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.